Browsing Category New Albums

Kandodo / McBain

As previously mentioned here, three members of The Heads have teamed up with John McBain, original member of Monster Magnet, who has also done some time in Queens of The Stone Age, The Desert Sessions and The Wellwater Conspiracy. Needless to say, the resulting sessions air on the heavy, druggy and especially droned out. The album, Lost Chants – Last Chance creeps out of the gate with high plains dread, finding solace in older Kandodo work, but also the atmospheres of Barn Owl, the sonic growl of Hills or the chest rattling work of Earth. The band doesn’t shy away from length, letting the dust cloud they will to life traverse every inch of these five tracks, inching their way up to the fifteen minute mark in some places.

The combination of players creates a kind of psychedelic vortex that sucks listeners in, making the album feel expansive, looming, and brimming with a storm that threatens to tear down the walls before the needle clicks to a close. To compound things further, the album is setup to play at both 33 and 45, allowing the aforementioned heaviness stretch to longer and slower grinding depths, with the CD/Dig versions including the 33 rpm slowed down cuts for those without a speed selector in their life. At either speed the Kandodo/McBain collision is a formidable foe, fraught with doom and dread which feels perfect for the onset of the end of 2016. Keep this one close at hand, there’s no telling when the apocalypse needs a good soundtrack, thick with oil smoke and charging hard at the edge of the stormfront. This one’s vibing hard towards what might be called global collapse rock. Feelin’ it.



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EZTV

EZTV’s debut was one of those slow burn stunners that crept in quiet and once it took hold, it was hard to shake. The band’s versed in their power pop history, choosing to err towards the softer and subtler end of the genre’s spectrum. They have plenty of pop in their veins but they know that the right kind of jangle sweeps a track along like a cool breeze, rustling the soul with an effortless shudder. They’ve nailed down their grasp on this brand of pop, moving from their Shake Some Action leanings into full on Chris Bell solo territory here. They’ve elevated themselves beyond just the jangled masses and weekend imitators to find that niche that’s running pure and clean. All power pop is, in a sense, looking for that ripple of purity and earnestness, mixed with just the right amount of bittersweet blush, but few are able to touch the nerve without coming off maudlin and cheap. That’s where EZTV succeed where others crumble.

Personally the band’s lyrical battle – longing for space, while struggling to stay in the city – hits home pretty hard, and I’m well versed in the push/pull on a person’s priorities that can evolve into. I lost the battle and bolted for trees but its good to know that EZTV are out there fighting the good fight against rent, cultural erosion and the strip-malling of NYC. Their home turf afforded a few drop-ins from compatriots in Real Estate and Quilt, plus labelmates Nic Hessler and Chris Cohen and even indie queen/tour partner Jenny Lewis herself on the tracks of High In Place. In telling form, though, no song ever sounds like a platform for their guests, EZTV just add the others’ brush strokes into their canvas of honeyed harmonies, sunset strums and weary words. The album feels like a classic before its even hit the runnout, which is a feat these days. Album-oriented rock may be on the decline but there are still a few who know how to knock a collection together. My advice is to settle in for the long haul and let EZTV act as a salve for the day, week, or month that’s got you down.

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Ultimate Painting

Three albums in Ultimate Painting have proved that they are not a band who burnt their wick in the short term. Refining their melted horizon vibes over the last two albums, they come fully into their own on Dusk. James Hoare has always been a secret weapon in Veronica Falls’ roster, with a beyond-his-years aesthetic that’s given pathos to his own songs and seen him pair up recently with luminaries like Pete Astor (The Loft, Weather Prophets). Now, along with Jack Cooper, he’s creating a bummer vibe that’s picking up pieces of The La’s, Dios (tell me that “Song For Brian Jones” doesn’t have a bit of “You Got Me All Wrong” in its bones and I’ll call you a liar), The Free Design and Heatmiser. Where they earned their VU fan club card on the first album and traded it in for a Teenage Fanclub badge on the second, they’ve come fully into their own on the third, synthesizing their love of pop both contemporary and on the dour side of the ’60s cannon this time ’round.

They’ve found a bittersweet comfort in pop’s arms, never showy, never overplaying their hand. There are scads of indie bands that will fill you full of bright strum, jangled choruses and twee notions but what’s great about Ultimate Painting’s realization of character is that they know they’re not a bolt of sunshine and they couldn’t care less about your reaction to their vibe. James and Jack have created a constant comedown, a space of perfect sighed bliss and reticence. I’ve been waiting for the band to find this balance, this refinement, and on Dusk they become the band they’ve always threatened to be. They’ve longed to be your resigned exhale into the cold air, the musical equivalent of frosted breath on a November morning, curling ever into the ether. They’ve left in the imperfection of tape hiss, giving the album a feeling of confessional beauty, frayed, but at the same time obviously pored over with a meticulous comb and ordered by two songwriters who have spent years finding their voice. This is the best that Ultimate Painting have presented and its one of the most autumnal records to slide out this year, fully formed and hugging the listener like a friendly shoulder.

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Suzuki Junzo

What’s been lacking from my 2016 is in fact a healthy dose of Japanese psych. And maybe that’s my fault, take your eye off the ball and it’ll slip right through your fingers. So to help heal the wounds Wisconsin’s Utech records comes to save the day with a vinyl issue of an overlooked tape cut last year by Japanese psych-blues savant Suzuki Junzo. The album stretches out from Junzo’s more typical space-boogie bag and hits hard into the outre realms with plenty of noise and clatter and guitar meltdown. Its Junzo transported to another plane of existence and madly tying to translate what he sees into a form of communication that can be digested by us terrestrials. Junzo’s not alone in this journey either, this time he’s taken along fellow psychic traveler and legend in his own right Kuro Takahashi of LSD March, Fushitsusha and High Rise.

The pair bashes in with little regard for self-preservation on the opener, which bears the winner for psychedelic song title of the year, “Crossing the Valley of the Cosmic Death Demons,” then tumbles further off the plane for a battle royale of strings and percussion against an unseen enemy on “Les Visiteurs Du Soir.” The new issue of If I Die Before I Wake adds in some slashing new material that wasn’t on the original tape, in the form of a bonus new track and a second with a double shot of live material. The record’s not for the faint of heart or sensitive of ear, but its just what the year needed, placing it up in the ranks of noise with the great overlooked RSD gem AcidGuruPond from earlier this year.



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Natural Child

There’s plenty of mining the classic rock quary’s these days. Everyone with enough bandwidth and time can adopt an expertise in most bands’ catalogs in a matter of days, but it takes a true love of form to really shine. For the past several years Natural Child have found their personal nexus in a mix of country strung rock and ’70s smooth players. Think the crossroads of The Dead, The Allman’s and JJ Cale and you’re getting into the right territory, pop some Byrds in their Graham Parsons phase into the mix, but subtract a touch of twang and you’re getting there. They explode out of that box though with their own additions of psych melt and some real groove-ridin’ swagger that feels wholly their own. They’ve come far with Okey Dokey, and despite what might be one of their worst cover images to date (this is in light of the fact that they have an album that’s simply an ass by the way) this stands as their most mature and serious feeling album to date.

The band always mixed the smooth delivery with a bit of winky humor, calling to mind late ’90s stalwarts The Tyde (who are back this year, hey Tyde) but now they seem to stow a few of the winks for a dichotomy that blends their tequila sunrise sounds with lyrics that feel paranoid, anxious and well, okay still a little flecked with levity to be honest, but that levity seems to be masking their unease. Its as if they’ve written music to act as the salve to their own jitters – a salve built on the soothing sounds of lightly marbled guitar and a shuffle of drum n’ groove. They do stray from their smoothe palette from time to time. On the title track and “It’s A Shame My Store Isn’t Open” the psychedelics seem to get the better of them and that “ease on down the road feeling” goes a bit sour, with the paranoia winning out handily. For the most part though, Natural Child will help you get through with a cracked smile and a drink in hand. They know that life’s blues are bearable, but not always wearable.

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Miss Destiny

Garage-punk and the leather-throated revial seem to have come and gone in the favor of the musical press junkies lately. Guitars being yesterdays toys, there’s marginal interest for sweat-wrung rock that evokes, while not necessarily photocopying, the mile-high heroes of a ’70s heyday. However, booming out of Melbourne, Miss Destiny have built up a reputation for tough-knuckled proto-punk that finds them lodged in a time when metal got thicker skin and faster tempos. They’re rocking like they couldn’t give a damn about tomorrow and finding a welcomed place on the shelf next to female-fronted pummelers from Heavy Cream and Vexx. The band, lead by ex-Circle Pit member Harriett Hudson, hold up Kiss and Danzig as their touchstones but their sound ends up falling right in the middle of that axis; harder hitting than the former and less self-serious than the latter.

They sound like they’re having fun with rock’s swagger. They evoke the kind of performances that might require learning how to lasso twirl a microphone and catch it fast before the next verse. They seep vibes of leather and whiskey, finding good company in Motörhead, Budgie and Girlschool as well. They even pull from a bit younger well of punk followers and forefathers. I’d swear there’s a touch of Bad Religion popping up on “Lucky Ones.” But enough name dropping, the band hold their own with amps on fire and strings ringing in your ears. Its easy to write off a band playing up the “rock band” aesthetics in maximalist fashion, but to be able to pull off such well-worn territory and make it not only feel like a lost totem of the past but fresh and vital in 2016 is a feat in its own right. The band make you want to buy a guitar and light the world on fire.



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Forma

On Forma’s third album they’ve expanded their scope to embrace a looser approach through improvisation, though they don’t dive into the idea lightly. Physicalist is constructed in two halves, the first follows their setup of vintage synths and Terry Riley/Faust vibes with occasional flecks of Cluster strewn about the synthscape. The second, plunges the band into a broader vision populated with flute, acoustic instrumentation (a first for the band) and elements of free jazz. Since the LP version is setup as a double LP, essentially they act as companion records with each focusing on a different scope, tied together by the idea of repetition and improvisation with an emotional arc fusing the halves through what feels like a cycle of self-discovery.

The first side is bound by their usual setup, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t taken a few steps forward. Barring the more techno oriented Cool Haptics EP, the band worked in groove oriented Kosmiche on both their eponymous LP and its follow-up Off/On and both of those releases feel much more tightly wound than anything on this side of Physicalist. From the cover art by influential psych designer Robert Beatty, to the double LP sprawl, everything here seems oriented to be more expansive, more attuned to the informative qualities of electronic float. The band works through tension and turbulence on this first portion, slowly unhinging its hold on reality.

The second side takes the notion of the infinite and lets it free. There’s a distinct progression along the first half towards looser and looser ends and they continue the unraveling on the second half to great effect, each track seems less and less tied to the idea of rhythm. They work this system right up until the title track, which bursts out of the second half in a vibrant and celebratory blast. Its still built into their well of synth, but adds a layer of pop that the band hasn’t really embraced. Its as if the tension and serenity of the preceding tracks melt into the background for the band to break free into a hedonist dance, leaving the academia of the album behind. Then, as a sobering up of sorts, the final improvisation rises like the sun over the tresses of the bridge line along the river, a knowing sign that tomorrow’s here and that a sobering reality awaits. Though, for the moment, that track hits like the halting bliss of a night well lived, the calm before the comedown. Its a great step forward for the band and one that knocks them out of any danger of being accused of stasis. They’ve built an well-oiled arc that uses the album format in a way that fewer and fewer seem to relish these days.




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Grumbling Fur

On their fourth album the duo of Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan reach for their most accessible works yet, though true to their style, they do it by utilizing abstract means and experimental textures that come together catchy on the whole. Blending circular rhythms, bowed strings, eastern instruments, and dense atmospheres, they take an ostensibly drone driven palette and work together songs that seem simple but unfold into loose and winding synth pop gems that could easily double as Eastern psych-pop if you strip away the vocals. Those vocal are an integral part of their aesthetic though. Both Tucker and O’Sullivan deliver in somber tones that convey a sadness that oftentimes mask the songs’ more uplifting lyrics.

The duo rope in some good company to bring the assist on Furfour, This Heat’s Charles Bullen and Isobel Sollenberger from Bardo Pond both join the band on a few tracks, adding their shading to the mix, which shares much in common with Arthur Russell or Depeche Mode gone far more experimental in their instrumental efforts. The textures, layers and rainy day demeanor seem perfect for those who’ve sought to hide away behind heavy curtains and in darkened corners of the house. For every lighthearted moment like “Acid Ali Khan,” there’s two more that up the tension. Most notably this peaks on album standout “Suneaters,” a pounding track with ominous vibes that closes out the album on an air of dread. They find similar moments of menace on “Silent Plans/Black Egg” and weave spoken word bits that lean to the sci-fi and spiritual, adding a bent of countercultural occult to the album. Furfour elevates itself above mere synthpop and into an album of balanced light and dark, heavy and frothy, catchy and abstract. Its the band doing what they do best, polishing it to a high gloss sheen that’s bittersweet and comforting in its embrace.




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Lorelle Meets The Obsolete

Long due for greater acclaim, it seems that Mexican duo Lorelle Meets The Obsolete are finally finding a few more heads to dive into their shadow pop universe. On Balance they achieve just that, a more even keel between their love of heavy atmospherics mixed with gauzy blasts of noise and the dream pop core that finds singer Lorena Quintanilla soaring above the din with a clarity she’s rarely found on previous albums. Where in the past they’ve taken the My Bloody Valentine approach to noise first and transparency second, now the duo have pursued a way to let the listener into their world, and find a bit more to chew on lyrically than they had previously. The effect doesn’t loosen their hold on noise-pop as a weapon of bracing tension. They still know how to blow the hair back off the skull when needed, but now its nice to trace the finer details of some of their songs and listen to Quintanilla shine in her role as an essential draw to the band’s sound.

The record brings on a handful of technical assistance that’s no slouch these days, Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin’ Bajas) mixed the record and his drone driven touch isn’t lost on the outcome. Everybody’s go-to mastering engineer, Mikey Young, put his touch on the finer points and I’ve never let Mikey steer me wrong, though any reader of RSTB should be far more than familiar with my love of LMTO by now. The album’s real strong point comes in embracing the musicianship and craft under the bombast of amp scorched shoegaze, Krautrock locked rhythm burn or psychedelic melt. They rope in newer elements; post-punk keys, delicate atmospheres, hell even strums seem to poke their way through the haze on “Waves Over Shadows”. The band still doesn’t embrace what I’d call a hook, and I mean that in a very complimentary way. Its not their place to work an earworm into your head, its their place to infect your very being and radiate from the inside out like a third-degree sunburn. They’ve softened the focus for those who can’t fully delve into the dosed and diced side of the spectrum, but they’re secretly softening those listeners up for full on soul-melt down the line. It’s truly the band finding a balance and showing that they’ve got more to offer than just sonic assault.




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Pye Corner Audio

Lately the syth soundtrack has become a pretty commonplace boilerplate for an album; with the creeping influence of John Carter and Vangelis reaching their icy fingers out to the masses. While S U R V I V E might be getting the lion’s share of attention lately, there are plenty of others who’ve been winding their way down the darkened alleyways that Carter and co. built by hand (see: Umberto, Steve Moore, Ensemble Economique). Martin Jenkins has been in the game longer than quite a few and Stasis acts as a sequel of sorts to 2012’s LP Sleep Games, which was also well steeped in Italian horror movie tropes and the creeping dread of their American counterparts.

The album builds, as any score might, from ambient nods to a driving center. Jenkins wastes little time jumping into the abyss of stressful strains, ramping up the fight or flight instincts by the time he hits third track, ‘Autonomization.” Its not entirely panic packed, but even when Jenkins takes it easy on the arpeggios he’s creating an atmosphere that’s less easy rollin’ than eye-of-the-hurricane calm before the second wave hits. I tend to find his hazier entries more intriguing than some of the pounding pulse runners and it would be interesting to see him flesh these moments out to a full album in their own right, though he did explore a bit of delicate territory on his split with Dalhous, Run For The Shadows. In a game that’s becoming increasingly crowded and almost bewilderingly so (how many Italo-horror fans are out there buying vintage synths), Pye Corner Audio still stands as a name others have to watch for cues on how to run the imaginary soundtrack right. There’s often little fumble on any Ghost Box associated project and Stasis is no exception. Jenkins nails the dark ambience, pinpoint tension and vintage feel that makes this genre still worth delving into.



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